In an April 2012 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in a 5-4 decision that officials can strip search people that are arrested for any type of offense, no matter how minor before admitting them to jails. This search would be allowed even if the officials have no reason to suspect that the prisoner is in possession of any contraband. This decision goes against statues that already exist in 10 states forbidding this type of search for minor offenses. The implications of this decision are profound in what it means not only for those who have actually committed any type of crime, but also for those who may be unjustly accused.
What Is A Strip Search?
A strip search requires that the arrested person remove all clothing. The person mouth is then examined, dentures must be removed, he runs his hands through his hair, his ears are examined and genitals are exposed for visual inspection. A female official does this same inspection process on women prisoners.
Arrests For Minor Offenses
What the decision means is that people who are arrested for minor offenses such as walking their dog without a leash, not using a turn signal, not wearing a seat belt or driving with a noisy muffler. These people are unlikely to be bringing contraband into a jail cell, and the decision would appear to be not only a violation of 4th amendment rights to privacy, but also against cruel and unusual punishment. If the punishment is to fit the crime, then a strip search without any probable cause is not only a violation of “due process” and is an egregious violation of constitutional rights.
Arrests Done in Error
The case brought to the Supreme Court itself demonstrates how the strip search ruling can and in fact, has been misused. The case was brought by Albert Florence, a New Jersey man who had been arrested in error on a bench warrant that had already been paid. He was subjected to a strip search twice, though there was no indication that he expected to be arrested or would have had any reason to hide contraband. Regardless, the justices believed that the possibility of his being able to endanger the prison population overruled his right to be secure in his person as the 4th amendment dictates. Though he was guilty of no crime and had, in fact, paid his fine, he was still subjected to the search, twice, as if he was likely to be a danger to the prison population. Consider how many others could be subjected to this indignity for no other reason than paperwork errors or delays.
Another implication of the strip-search ruling is how it will disproportionately affect certain segments of the population more than others. It is well documented that African-Americans are routinely profiled in the United States, and are often arrested for crimes they did not commit. They will be routinely subjected to this degrading search, as will other groups that tend to be profiled by law enforcement officials. It will end up being a de facto violation of civil rights as well as constitutional rights.
Though the ruling was made to allow law enforcement officials broad authority to provide security for jails and prisons, the decision has more far-reaching effects that can corrode liberty in the country, as well as cause increased hostility between law enforcement and the people they are sworn to serve.